bomb: A young girl's diary
By Adam Leibowitz
TOKYO - There is a certain frisson in the air in Japan in August.
Although ceremonies for the atomic fatalities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are
held on the days the cities were attacked (the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on
August 6), it is accurate to say that the whole month is devoted to mourning
and remembrance. Television almost daily broadcasts a bomb-related story and
although daily summer routines are unabated, no doubt history and its
unresolved - possibly irresolvable - issues hang in the air. Possibly these
sentiments increase due to O-Bon, the period when deceased spirits
return to the family homes and are entertained. O-Bon is actually a
spirited time in another fashion with festival parades, dancing, and fireworks,
a way to overcome the fear of death while acknowledging its ever-presence.
Yet despite these festivities there is still the underlying tension associated
with atomic memory. The triumphal narrative of the two cities and the whole of
Japan "rising from the ashes in pacifist prosperity" holds little purchase
these days given Tokyo's full endorsement of a "war on terrorism" (that
includes the use of depleted uranium). The nuclear power plants that dot our
earthquake-ridden archipelago also seem to confuse the issue. The victims of
the attack, although mourned in ceremony, seem not to have a place in this
narrative. This is very disquieting because the hibakusha, the survivors
who directly witnessed the attack, are aging and next year's 60th anniversary
will no doubt be the last of its kind, similar to this year's D-Day
commemoration in Europe.
True understanding of our complex nuclear present might in fact never
materialize, but I believe it is possible to place the dropping of the atomic
bomb in some sort of historical context that brings into fuller account the
victims as individual lives. We can do this by examining the harshness of
living under wartime conditions even before the bomb was dropped. I was brought
to this awareness by novelist Nosaka Akiyuki's nine-part lecture/documentary
series entitled Reading the Diaries from War's End that aired on NHK TV from
August-September, 2002. Fans of Japanese animation know Nosaka for his
screenplay Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) about two
wartime orphans who slowly starve to death through community neglect. The
message of this partially autobiographical story is that families turn against
their own in the home-front hardships of war.
As suggested by the series title, Nosaka used diaries by well-known Japanese
literati as a frame for "World War II", with on exception: The journal of
13-year-old Moriwaki Yoko. Kept as homework from her entrance to the
prestigious Hiroshima Prefectural Girls' HS #1 on April 6, 1945, it now stands
as a school-age record of "domestic history", that is, home life under national
conflict. The excerpts below show the term "home front" seems particularly apt
Moriwaki's diary April 6: Today was the entrance ceremony for the Showa 20 (1945) school
year. I have become what I always longed to be, a student of the Hiroshima
Prefectural First Girls High School. As a pupil of this school in Japan, so as
not be an embarrassment I will live each day fully with all my heart and always
give the best I can.
April 7: My first day going to school. That morning I leaped out of bed.
If my father were here how happy he would have been. He is at the front now and
he would have celebrated my coming out. For the sake of my father I must always
give the most that I can. Father, your Yoko has become the assistant leader of
the sixth class. Please be happy.
April 8: On the fifth we walked the six ri (approximately 25 kilometers)
distance from Tsuda all the way to the far end of Yoshiwa, and my legs were so
tired that I woke up later than usual.
April 10: Today was the first day classes started. First and second
periods were sewing. Third period was literature. Fourth period was art class.
Fifth period was grammar ... On the way home from school I saw my relative
little Mei. She is in the fourth grade of primary school. Very soon she is
going to be evacuated to the country away from her parents and she looked very
sad. However, this is for victory. Mei-chan, be brave.
April 13: Today I saw one of those hated B-29s for the first time. It
left a long, beautiful smoke trail, circled once in the sky above Hiroshima and
then left. I felt really sad. The air raid signal went off again and we went
home at noon.
April 19: I stayed home because I was sick. I have been pushing myself
too hard the past few days and today I just could not go to school. My throat
was hurting so badly that I could not talk. My head felt so heavy and I could
barely lift my hands. I really wanted to go but I could not.
April 23: Today we had math in first period and we began learning how to
use a slide rule. It seemed pretty interesting. Midway through fifth period the
air raid signal went off and we soon went home.
April 25: We learned care for older people in home economics. The old
have worked most of their lives for the country and their families, and today I
felt that thanks to them we are here. It's also important to take good care of
them because they are our ancestors. I listened very closely to the discussion
and felt I learned something very important …Today the air raid warning came on
in the afternoon and I caught the 15:16 ferry home. We heard that one large
airplane got to Akise shoals. On our way home there was a large "boom", and I
wonder what it was.
April 26: Today was the first day of biology class. The teacher is
Kimura-sensei. He was a pretty good teacher. We learned about pine pollen today
and examined it under a microscope. We could see so much.
April 28: Today during first and second periods we visited the school's
farm plots in Minami-takeya. Using a hoe we turned over the dirt, pulled weeds,
and then returned to school. As soon as we returned the air raid siren went off
and I took the 12:15 ferry home. Because of the air raid signal I got home
earlier than usual. I helped with many household tasks and did my homework. I
cut wood. When I was doing it the axe hit the pointer finger on my left hand
and gave me a real shock. Fortunately it was not hurt and I felt very relieved.
Always the air raid sirens, dad's away at the front May 5: There was an air raid signal during third period and we went home
early … One year ago today Father went away to the front.
May 11: Today as I was going to school we immediately had an air raid
warning and so I went into the shelters. Soon after there was an "all clear"
and I was about to return home when the siren came on again, and we went back
into the shelters. After the "all clear" I caught the 11am ferry home … After
lunch I rested a little and then began preparing food for an emergency, when
Mother suddenly came down with a terrible stomach ache. I took care of her in
every way and made dinner. I was praised for doing such a good job and felt
May 17: Today there were many things to do in work practical class. Our
job is to tidy-up the 70 trees around the Regional Courts. There is a lot to do
but I want to give it my all. My feet were aching a little from today's work,
but when I think of our soldiers it is nothing. I want to do the best job I can
tomorrow, so after writing in my diary and housework chart I went to bed.
May 18: We had our work practical class again today and it was the same
as the day before. I cut my hand on some bamboo. It was only a little cut but
it hurt a lot. But, it must be nothing compared to the front lines.
June 4: Today we had road cleaning again and we took care of the same
areas. Although the sun was hot and I was sweaty and tired, when I saw how nice
the road looked it felt really good and I thought we did a good job.
June 5: Today right now the battle on Okinawa continues. I think the
girls' school students in the US and in England probably stand united. We
cannot let them do that better than us. We cannot … During the day while I
study, Osaka and Kobe are attacked by enemy planes. Probably there are students
like me there who are being bombed into tiny pieces like cherry blossoms.
Classmates, we are fighting the enemy at every turn. You can sleep peacefully
under the ground.
June 18: I woke up early this morning to buy a train ticket. All the
tickets were sold out right before me and I was disappointed. Then I was very
glad to find a truck. I arrived at Yoshiwa around 12pm and Grandfather looked
very happy. Today I was tired and I could not help with much of the work.
June 19: Today was my second day in Yoshiwa. My job was to get up early,
care for the chickens, prepare food and clear up after eating, clean the house,
and pull weeds in the garden. After resting a little, I went back to work. (She
stayed to work at her grandparent's farm for two weeks.)
When I'm tired, I think of our soldiers July 7: My feet hurt a little because yesterday I walked 25km. However,
it is nothing when I think about how much marching soldiers must do. We cleaned
during the first period, and we had just finished when there was an air raid
signal. We quickly lined up and people living outside the city, evacuated
schoolbooks and carried them home.
July 16: Today during first period we learned to tie a triangular
bandage around the head, eye, ear, and jaw …Today there was an air-raid signal
and I took the 14:20 ferry home. Then, I did homework and studied until 17:00,
ate dinner, wrote in my diary and went to bed.
July 24: After I boarded the ferry this morning there was an air raid,
and since the ferry could not go on I returned home and waited for the
all-clear. It continued until 10am and so I could not go to school. I think it
is terrible that the enemy causes us to miss school, even if it is just for one
July 29: Today I went to see relatives in I-no-guchi. We had to walk
part of the way and my feet were tired. We ate some peaches and brought them
August 3: We went to the park in Takeya today. The grass and weeds were
very tall because nobody had cut them for a very long time. Everyone worked
very hard to clear away the grass and weeds until we could see the black earth.
It was such a beautiful color. We plowed all the weeds back into it. We worked
up a great sweat and it felt so good afterwards when we finished together … My
body felt a little tired but it was really nothing. The students in the upper
classes are also working so hard. There is no reason to say "I'm tired".
Tomorrow we go back to the park. I'm going to give it my all.
August 5: Yesterday Uncle came over for a visit and it was very lively
in the house. I thought it would be so nice if it were always like that.
Tomorrow I will do clean-up after a house-breaking. I will put my all into it.
"House-breaking" (kaya-sokai ) was a traditional form of fire protection
in urban areas in which houses surrounding an important structure were taken
down to prevent the spread of conflagration in case of an aerial incendiary
attack. The next day, August 6, Yoko and her classmates were working at a site
in the Dobashi district of Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. In the
companion volume to his series, Nosaka Akiyuki describes her death:
She died that evening, giving her best
"On the 6th after it was taken down as she was laboring to clean up in what
would have been the house's shadow, the atom bomb blazed out about 1km away. In
most likelihood in the afternoon her mangled self was taken to the kitchens of
her school about 10km away and she died that evening. The students attending
the lower grades of her school probably had no idea what had happened. The
adults had long since stopped thinking. In the summer of that year the only
group of people who were 'giving their best' for Emperor and for country was
Yoko and her generation."
This last sentence is echt Nosaka: an uncompromising historical
materialist, he once suggested on national television that the Emperor
accompany Prime Minister Koizumi to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, not to honor
the war dead as is the custom but to apologize to them. His reasoning was since
more Japanese soldiers died from lack of food and medicine than enemy bullets
they were not receiving support from the Imperial system they had sworn to
This historical materialism can work as some small palliative in the face of
the irresolvable moral or epistemological questions that come to the fore
during this period of atomic remembrance: "Why did they die?" The answer is
easy: an atomic bomb was dropped; "Why was it dropped?" Because there was a
war, and modern warfare includes nuclear weaponry. Then we must ask: "Why was
there a war?" This most complex of questions refuses an answer accepted by
everyone, but Nosaka can at least answer directly why there was still war on
August, 6, 1945: Because Japan's political leaders dithered away the
opportunity to respond actively to the Potsdam Accords and surrender in late
Article 9, the clause of Japan's constitution renouncing war as an
instrument of foreign policy, is often invoked during the ceremonies as
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The late combat journalist Hashida Shinsuke lamented
politicians tend to interpret it as more "anti-battle" than "anti-war", which
stymies open discussion about what war actually is. In fact, "war" as a concept
if anything is entirely subjective, and the same war can be different things to
different people. Of course, soldiers and military action are the story of war,
but Nosaka's use of diaries makes us aware that the hard lives of home-front
non-combatants also should have a central role in this story.
Moriwaki Yoko's family survived the war, including her music-teacher father who
returned from China. The diary was preserved by her family and published by her
brother in 1992 in Japan. Understanding the reality of the A-bomb experience
requires not just a viewing of the horrors that it brought, but in addition the
conditions, the hardships that preceded it. Anything less demeans our knowledge
of its experience.
Adam Leibowitz is a teacher and translator living in Japan 13 years. His
articles have appeared in Counterpunch and Japan Focus and he is completing a
collection of original Japanese poetry. His e-mail is
(Copyright 2004, Asia Times Online Diary tanslation copyright 2004 Adam
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